Justice League is an Enjoyable Mess

Caught the movie of the season last night, Justice League. I went into it with high expectations because the first several trailers really got me hyped. Still, I was apprehensive about what effect Joss Whedon would have on the finished product — I feel like Whedon and Snyder have very distinct styles that don’t mesh well. After seeing the movie, I still hold that viewpoint. It lacked a lot of the style that a Snyder movie would have. It’s hard to say whether or not Snyder’s version would have been a better film — we’ll never know, but it’s definitely Whedonified. It’s dialog heavy, brighter and lacking in mystery. It’s definitely a departure from Snyder’s other films. Whether that’s good or bad well… I’d say it’s a step too far in the right direction. It’s an over-correction. Let me go over the plot loosely before I talk about the quality of the movie.

The plot is this: Superman is dead, the world is reeling, and his death has created an opening for evil forces to invade Earth. As a result, perennial loner Batman has to go recruit a team of superpowered individuals to create a force that can repel the invading threats. Soon enough, Steppenwolf, an ancient evil alien from the war planet Apokolips, touches down alongside an army of bug people who are eerily reminiscent of the henchmen from Venture Bros.

Alright, so let’s get into it. Let’s start with the bad, because I want to get it out of the way. The structure is a mess, the script is full of expository, cringe-worthy dialog, it’s lacking in style and even though it’s only two hours, it feels like a long two hours. The villain is forgettable. The movie had a ton of fat that could be trimmed off. The first half of the movie is a meandering mess of jumping between different characters for meaningless vignettes, flashbacks, and overt setups for other stuff that’s supposed to be coming up in the DCEU. Aquaman, despite being a buff attractive dude now, is still an antiquated, ill-conceived character with completely useless powers. Diana seems to have completely undefined abilities now, ranging from superspeed to extrasensory perception. The Flash’s costume looks really terrible and he runs like a competitive speed skater with flailing noodle arms. There is some really, really noticeably bad green screening throughout the film.

The vibe is completely different from what Zack Snyder is good at, but I’m not going to blame Joss Whedon. The sense I got from the film is basically that they asked Zack Snyder, a dark, stylish, visual filmmaker, to make a dialog heavy, bright, jokey Joss Whedon movie and he was just incredibly out of his element, so they brought Joss in to clean it up. It’s Zack Snyder attempting to make a Joss Whedon movie, and it doesn’t come off well. Maybe Joss could have filmed some of these very campy, cringe-worthy lines in a way that they didn’t stand out so much. Then again, Snyder was perfectly adept at making ensemble movies that jump around from character to character before this film, so the fact that it turned out to be a structural mess signified that they shackled his personal style in such a way he couldn’t really even succeed at the things he’s good at. It was the realization of my fears about the movie: Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon’s styles are so diametrically opposed that smashing them together doesn’t produce something better than one or the other individually would.

That said, I actually enjoyed the movie. The Flash was fantastic and delivered fully on the entertainment factor promised in the trailers. Ben Affleck, again, did a decent job as Batman, and maybe 30% of the dialog scenes were compelling — in particular the 2nd act arc where they argue about how they could bring back Superman. The action is great, especially the choreography involving Wonder Woman. The chemistry between the cast felt honest and relatable. The scene where (SPOILER) Superman returns is perhaps the coolest fight scene in a superhero movie to date, and the whole third act is a blast.

In general, the choreographers, actors, costume designers (except the Flash’s), and special effects artists did a great job. The direction and writing didn’t stand out well. I think it’s well worth watching, I’d give it a B-. As far as the impact on the DCEU itself: it didn’t grab me for an Aquaman movie, it did pull me in for a Flash movie, and I felt like it missed a huge opportunity for an end-credits scene that teased a Hal Jordan Green Lantern.

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